How to Lift a Manhole Cover - the Sunrise Tools Guide

Lifting Manhole and drainage covers can be physically demanding. Undertaking such work without suitable lifting aids greatly increases the risk of personal injury. With Backcare Awareness Week 2016 almost upon us (3rd to 8th October 2016), now is a good time to review this activity and reflect upon how cover lifting can be undertaken more safely.

The article is sub-divided as follows:

  • Lifting manhole covers 'hands-on'
  • Lifting manhole covers with handheld lifting keys
  • Traditional manhole cover lifting systems
  • The magnetic manhole lifter

Lifting manhole covers directly by hand .... 

Back injuries are synonomous with manual lifting of drain covers. Whether for convenience, through ignorance of the risks or as an act of bravado, some people continue to lift manhole covers by hand.

Drain covers come in all shapes and sizes. It is often only when lifting is in progress that the true size and weight of a cover is understood. The local environment in which a drain cover is situated is also likely to contribute directly to the challenge of lifting – it is not easy to adopt a good lifting stance if the cover is in a raised position, obstructed by an immoveable object or surrounded by an uneven or slippery surface.

Handling drain covers manually risks trapping fingers, hands or feet between the cover and the frame or the ground.

Common sense says Manhole and Drain covers should not be handled manually!

Click here to read a brief guide on Manual Handling at Work published by the HSE

Lifting manhole covers with handheld lifting keys

Most commonly, persons who lift drain covers by hand use handheld cover lifting keys which engage in slots in the cover. Although first, they may need to loosen the cover if it is jammed in its frame, usually the result of compacted dirt, corrosion and traffic impact. It is here you often see the cover being hammered or attempts made to insert pry bars. This can result in:

  • Damaged or broken covers
  • Strain or impact injuries to the person wielding the hammer
  • Flesh or eye injuries from detached pieces of metal or debris

As there is no common slot design, a drainage engineer may carry a range of lifting keys to cover all eventualities. Using an ill-fitting key is inadvisable as it will not be secure in the key slot and the cover may become detached.

Even with a pair of correct-fitting keys, there is the problem of finding a good lifting stance - with a typical manhole cover being 600 mm wide, the worker must straddle the cover, feet a minimum 700 mm apart, and attempt a lift with straight back and bent knees. 

Split covers comprise two triangular sections fitted with inter-connecting bolts. When lifting, the natural movement between the two parts creates an ungainly load, which increases the dangers for the worker as they stand astride the drainage chamber. Even if two persons, each with one lifting key, share the load, they need to achieve good co-ordination of movement and be able to react in unison if something goes amiss.

With the HSE advised single person lifting limit being 25 kg, most drain covers are too heavy for one person to lift; many will also exceed 50 kg, so even two-person lifting is not appropriate.

Having removed the drain cover, there are risks associated with manoeuvring and refitting it (over an open chamber). Given that a range of assisted lifting tools and systems are available, manual handling of drainage covers is wholly unnecessary and should be limited to exceptional situations where no alternative is available.

Traditional Manhole Cover Lifting Systems

The majority of drain covers have to be removed vertically. There is a small population of drain covers, usually exceptionally heavy items, which are designed to be raised slightly and then withdrawn at low level, using rollers - these are not widely deployed as they require additional space around them to effect removal.

There are a myriad of manhole and drain cover lifting systems on the market, featuring either mechanical or hydraulic mechanisms. All engage with the cover through the lifting slots, a concept that has been in use for many years and is well understood. Their capabilities will vary considerably, usually in proportion to their price, but it does mean there is considerable choice for the purchaser. That said, all share certain limitations associated with their reliance on the fixed-position key slots, which in many instances, restricts the manner in which they can be deployed. Moreover, some are of such size and complexity they require assembly at the point-of-use or two persons to carry and deploy the device. 

Manhole Buddy MagTec Magnetic Manhole Lifter

A Manhole Buddy cover lifting set always comprises two elements, a Lifting Trolley and a Cover Attachment device. The Manhole Buddy MagTec set comprises the Lifting Trolley and a Magnetic Cover Attachment. 

Manhole Buddy Magtec is effective on a wide range of metallic covers and is generally unmatched in its speed of deployment and use. Inherent in its design are a number of significant advantages:

  • Firstly, it requires no form of manhole lifting key, so no time is spent clearing dirt and compacted debris from the lifting slots and the risks assocaited with ill-fitting keys is removed from the process. 
  • Secondly, it requires no lifting effort. The operator inputs a downward force which the trolley mechanics multiply by a factor of 2.5:1 and convert into a lifting action. So it becomes easy to lift and move heavy loads.
  • To unseat a jammed cover, you place the magnet at the cover edge and engage the High Leverage lifting pins. A mechanical advantage greater than 5:1 eases the cover from its frame with minimal effort. 
  • Portability and speed of deployment are unrivalled. This is a genuine one-person device, which can be carried by hand, operated in total safety, yet stored in the boot of a small car

There are numerous manhole lifter systems on the market. All are capable to varying degrees of lifting drainage covers. Many fall out of favour due to their size and complexity which often results in the user reverting to the simpler but more risky use of handheld lifting keys.

By contrast, the Manhole Buddy MagTec is fast, safe and convenient, suitable for male or female operatives and ideal for lone-worker situations. It is the manhole lifting solution most likely to deter operatives from reaching for the handheld lifting keys. And that will undoubtedly save backs from injury!

Click here for full product information on all Manhole Buddy variants
Call 01794 830 841 if you wish to discuss the use of these products
Manhole Buddy products are manufactured and supplied by Sunrise Tools & Equipment, Romsey, Hampshire 
Click here for details of all Cover Lifting products available from Sunrise Tools

Posted in: Sunrise Updates